Monday, September 19, 2016

The Meaning of Gratitude

Sometimes the greatest lessons come not from those who excel at a given trait, but those who fail miserably. Such it was this week. When you watch someone ignore, or worse, belittle the efforts of others, you quickly realize the value there is in acknowledging how important it is that others try their best.

Imagine how you would feel if you tried to help someone and instead of marveling at your efforts, they turned to others and complained that no one was helping them. You feel alone, upset and resentful. You know you are helping and while you aren't helping in order to receive a thank you, those comments about their never getting help feel like such a slap in the face.

Sometimes, the needs of the one do really outweigh the needs of the many. In Star Trek terms, we always focused on the needs of the many but in real life, you often have situations where one person or one family needs more...and more...and more. And what you end up with is a situation where the many simply can't handle the needs of the one.

In our amazing city, but more specifically, our amazing neighborhood, they've come up with a solution for that. There's what is called a Chessed Committee (chessed is Hebrew for compassion). It is a charity collected primarily from the generosity of people in our neighborhood and the funds are used to help people in need, often due to sudden illness or an operation. Three years ago, I didn't even know they existed. I donated money to a general community fund, never knowing that part of that money is regularly diverted to this smaller but so important fund. I didn't know...until I needed help - more help then my family could provide, longer term than the community could sustain.

Someone called them and told them that we needed help - and help they delivered. Weekly for months, they brought us food. They offered even more help, but I was embarrassed and just couldn't bring myself to take it.

Each week, they arrived with prepared food for Shabbat; plentiful, delicious. I had to almost beg them to stop. When I told them that I thought they could manage, one amazing neighbor told me her husband had had the same operation and there was no way I could do it. I insisted and she reluctantly agreed. By the late afternoon, I couldn't even hold a plastic cup. Clearly, I was not nearly as healed as I thought. The Chessed Committee volunteer called me on Sunday, asked how it went, and when I was honest, she told me that she insisted on restarting food deliveries. A few weeks later, I tried again. I almost had to beg her to let me try!

Ultimately, I was able to resume my cooking and other things in the house, but I have never forgotten the amazing generosity of the Chessed Committee and the community that funds them. Sadly, yesterday I came across someone less able to express generosity and so much more able to express disappointment with...well, nearly everyone. Even when gratitude is expressed, it is used more as a weapon to show one community in a bad light (completely undeserved) by raving about the other.

Some people are good at expressing gratitude towards everyone. Some express it to none. By far, however, the most upsetting are those who express it towards one, with the knowledge that in pointing out the positive of one, they are delivering an insult to the second.

This lack of positivism, has been happening for weeks or perhaps even months but this time, I couldn't bring myself to let it go and so I tried gently to explain how generous and helpful our community is. The response was one of dismissal yet again and sadly, as expected, more criticism. I understand that at hard times in ones life, it is hard to see beyond one's own needs and issues but sometimes the greatest gift you can give yourself is the ability to see beyond yourself. And, when you accomplish this, you'll often find an amazing thing, you'll feel better for it. When you see that other care, you'll feel so more able to cope than when you rush to assume that nobody does. When you offer gratitude towards others, they too feel better and so are more apt to come forward to help more.

I tried again - this time in a telephone conversation, I was screamed at and ordered around. No gratitude forthcoming from there, but an amazing thing happened. Literally over a dozen people wrote to me to thank me for the first post and to offer kind words to mitigate the second. The longer the evening went on, the more responses and thanks I got. And more, people came forward to tell me how they had tried to help but were tired and frustrated to hear that apparently they had done nothing. My amazing nothing? Sorry, not possible. But the amazing thing that came out of my posting was that each learned of the other. It wasn't just about them anymore but rather a community that HAD stepped forward to help; that wanted, that tried, that did.

They cooked, they prayed, they offered comfort. They watched over children, fed them, called them. A lesson for an entire community can come out of a few bitter and angry posts.

The lesson - when you give love, you are more likely to receive it. When you show gratitude, you are more likely to receive that in return as well. And when you give and you don't find gratitude, the giving is not lessened. So you need to find comfort within yourself, if those who should give gratitude don't.

It's a lesson we all need to learn, even if we learn it with the wrong example. When your community bands together to help you, be grateful. When someone does something to make your life easier (or that of your family), focus on the good things they've done, not what you wish they had. And if you did all you could, feel good about yourself. Know that you tried; you did your best and know that you and your community are better for the acts of kindness you offer.

Ultimately, the generosity of the Chessed Committee years ago has encouraged me to help others. What I'm fighting now is the urge to stop helping those who can't see how many people are trying to help. It's depressing being told over and over again, how no one is helping when you know so many are.

And so the real lesson, those who are incapable of showing true respect and gratitude have little to do with the essence of a community that is very focused on chessed, compassion, and good deeds.

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